A Rather Belated Killing

Scream 4

Slasher series are regularly resurrected. There's the number of time the studio tried to kill off Jason in the Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. series, and both Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm StreetThe brain-child of director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street was his answer to the glut of Slasher films that were populating the multiplex. His movie featured an immortal character, Freedy, with a powerset like none other, reshaping the expectations for Slasher movies to come. saw reboots long after their original runs had ended, with talk of the films getting revived yet again. Considering all the slashers out there (the aforementioned ones, HalloweenThe franchise that both set the standard for Slasher horror and, at the same time, defied every convention it created, Halloween has seen multiple time lines and reboots in its history, but one thing has remained: Michael Myers, the Shape that stalks Haddonfield., Child's PlayAlthough some might have thought that the idea of a killer doller slasheer flick couldnt' support a multi-decade spanning franchise, Chucky certainly proved them wrong, constantly reinventing his series, Child's Play to stay fresh and interesting three decades later., Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, and on and on) about the only truly consistent rule with slashers is that their series really isn't over.

The same is true of the Scream series, a set of movies that saw their heyday in the late 1990s. Although the original trilogy wrapped up with a meta-commenting third film, Scream 3, it was inevitable that, eventually, someone would try to bring the film series screaming (pun intended) back to life. Those creative forces were in fact original director and writer Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson (respectively). All of the surviving original cast were brought back -- Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, David Arquette as Sheriff Dewey Riley, and Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers-Riley -- for one more round on the old slasher bandwagon.

As each of the previous films had commented on the slasher films -- Scream and slasher flicks in general, Scream 2 and sequels, and then Scream 3 and trilogies -- The new film, Scream 4 (or, Scre4m, if you were a poster designer) had to find its own meta angle. This time around we're discussing what it takes to reboot a series, to bring a slasher back around again, something that actually seemed at least somewhat timely considering the reboots of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween), so it's time to take a trip back to where it all began: Woodsboro.

While on a book tour promoting her side of the story, Sidney (Campbell) arrives in her old home town of Woodsboro right as a new wave of killings starts right back up again. It seems that there's a new killer on the loose (since all the previous ones are dead), and they're out to remake the original series of killings, starting with two teens home alone before working their way through all the popular kids at school. Anyone could be the killer, as the murderer is going around once again dressed as Ghostface, and it's up to Sydney, Dewey, and Gale to figure out who is behind the killings and bring them to justice (read: more than likely kill them first) before each and every one of them is picked off by the film's climax.

In some respects this newer Scream does know what its doing. When it comes to the killings themselves, this film manages to up the brutality and the carnage, creating a number of scenarios that are gross and scary. While some the surprise has long since leaked out of the franchise -- you can easily tell when someone is going to get picked off, which characters are in trouble and which are safe simply by the framing of the scenes and the shadows behind them -- the kills themselves still hold up. It's actually funny how violent some of these killings get, with a lot of slashing and stabbing that can make even a seasoned slasher watcher like myself cringe, considering how the original films were crafted to play down the violence of the killings in the wake of the Columbine shootings. I guess that's just the world of horror now since Saw and its ilk came out.

There is also some material to be mined from the idea of rebooting a series. Of course, as it's Scream 4, with three of the original cast members returning, it's hardly a truly reboot -- that would require an entirely new cast of characters (like we had with the television series later) -- but the film still treats the material as such. It finds ways to comment on the source material, to stage some shots like what came before, the make call backs to the original trilogy. It's thankfully not too beholden to the original films, never quite stepping back into straight shot-for-shot territory, but the legacy of the original films is clear on the minds of Craven and Williamson.

Sadly, once the film really starts settling into its material, getting past all the winking nods and comments on reboots, it ends up as just another rote slash flick. This was a problem I had with Scream 2 as well, that the whole original concept from the first film is lost among the need to raise the stakes, to up the killing, to be just another slasher in a genre full of them. All the creativity of the source material feels a long way off at this point, all the humor to be mined and the commentary to be found shoved aside for just another bunch of dead co-eds and splatters of blood.

There's an artifice to this film that is never really lost. The original film (which this film is purposefully aping) used actors fairly close to their teens to sell the fact that these were young people in harm's way. This time around all the "teen" actors look like they're in their late twenties, too obviously old to be playing parts in high school. The film is constantly referencing it's own in-universe series, Stab, letting you know there's an artificial element to the proceedings, and that along with everything else -- the actors, the story, the elaborate plotting for the murderers -- leaves this film feeling even more fake than the already meta-fake Scream 3.

And while I like the idea of the series thinking about what it means to reboot itself, continuing its own meta lineage, there's a "old man yelling at clouds" air to the whole proceeding. The killers are in the vein of Mickey from Scream 2, out for the fame and glory of being a part of the carnage. So they record everything that's happening, ready to stream it to the masses and get their 15 minutes of Internet fame. It's as if the director and the writer thought, "these darn kids live their lives on the socials, posting all their events and dinners and selfies to the series of tubes. Let's make a movie about those rascals!" It dates the film at this point because while social media is still a big deal, yes, only a select group live their lives on there while the rest of us have better things to do already.

Finally, there's the problem of the three main characters. Once you know the story and realize the big twists at the end, we once again have the issue that our lead three -- Sydney, Dewey, and Gale -- all wear plot armor. No matter how the film might want to dress it up that, no really, this time they're all in danger it's pretty clear our heroes are going to survive to the end. They can't die, they're our Final Crew and even if there's a Scream 20 set in a retirement home, these three will still somehow survive. Once you realize that, all the terror of the climax drains away. The twist is decent but it deflates the whole film and leaves any potential for a sequel, once again, feeling hollow.

There were plans for a trilogy to grow out of Scream 4, but the original plotting for its two sequels was thrown aside when this film underperformed at the Box Office (pulling only a little over double it's $40 Mil production budget, a bad number to make in this modern blockbuster era). Still, there are plans once again to revive the franchise (and not just on TV), with a Scream 5 (5ream?) potentially coming out in 2021. Whether the series needs that at this point, though, is the question.

Going forward, what is there really left to say about Slasher films? Hasn't the series already commented on everything it can? If the core trio keeps coming back, keeps surviving every film, the series is going to devolve into a regular series of dumb splatter-fests without even the meta-textual sense to make of it (I would arguing this film basically already does this). Haven't we already gotten to the point where Scream has lost the sense of what it once was? Can the franchise really say anything more?

Bring the series back or not, at this point it feels like Scream needs to be put to rest. It started out as a comment on the genre, starting a fresh wave of interesting slasher films. At this point, though, it's just another slasher amongst so many, lurching along without the sense of what to do next, more Stab than Scream. It's all just grist for the mill and until the series can find a truly unique take on the material, Scream will remain among the films it once rose above: just a generic slasher with a lot of dead teens and nothing to say.

The Killing Floor:

First Sin:

Well, since bad acting doesn't count, it would be enjoying scary movies. Apparently that's enough at this point to warrant death.

First Kill:

The first three kills in the movie are fake as the film does a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie shtick -- this is the film being extra meta with its setup. After we get out of the opening framing device, we finally get to two blond girls sitting in a house, talking about slasher flicks. And then the killer calls, goes through the exact same setup we just saw in the meta-films, before finally offing the girls. It's pretty weak, honestly.

Final Body Count:

Twelve (that actually count). Six teens, a publicist, two cops, a parent, and both killers.